Four years ago, Meg Toohey was asked to be the on-stage guitarist for the Tony-nominated Broadway show Waitress. It brought the Massachusetts-born musician/songwriter/producer back East from a life in Los Angeles, and while she didn’t know it when she said yes, it also changed her life.
At the time, Toohey saw it as an opportunity to work with her friend Sara Barielles, help orchestrate several of Waitress’s songs, and experience the life of being a Broadway musician. Four years later, she realizes it was an opportunity to reclaim her own life.
“I was unhappy. My marriage was ending, and I didn’t feel great about my career. I felt stagnant. I was even thinking about leaving music all together. And then the phone rang and it was Sara.”
She’s made mistakes — personally and professionally — and she’s willing to admit it. “I’m a grown-up now. I have the courage to be honest.” She also has put her honesty into songs, and put herself and her story at the center of her creativity.
A lyric from her poignant new song, “Ballad of a Butch,” on her upcoming new album, Butch, says it best:
“Where the hell have I been? I stood on the side waiting for someone else’s show to begin - And I’ve carried that feeling around in the pit of my bones - And ache with knowing that I’m the one who set that tone.”
Relocating to NYC gave Toohey what she needed for her own evolution. Brooklyn became like the cocoon for her metamorphosis. She had everything inside herself — the talent, the confidence, the life experience — it just needed to come together at the right time.
This October, Toohey will release Butch, her first album of original songs in 15 years. Meg Toohey is center stage now, but the honesty of her lyrics embraces every person she’s been over her 20+ year career.
It’s her most personal work in years — if ever — and she’s incredibly proud and excited to put this music into the world. The record is eight songs with powerful sonic soundscapes, expansive guitar sounds, and piercingly truthful lyrics.
“These songs are so honest and truthful. I feel connected to my music in a way that I haven’t felt before,” said Meg.
While she’s been a successful songwriter for years, for this album Meg’s lyrics are much more personal, more vulnerable.
“I always tried to be clever in my songwriting; which isn’t a bad thing, of course,” she said, “but my songs were not always about myself. They weren’t the brutal truth. These songs are. I am just putting it all out there.”
This music in many ways marks a return to her roots, and not just geographical. Despite her ace reputation as a guitarist - in addition to her thriving work on Broadway, Toohey has recently toured with legendary Spanish artist, Manolo Garcia, playing with David Bowie’s former guitarist, Gerry Leonard, and routinely works as a session player in NYC, LA, and Nashville. But Toohey’s core as a musician is as a songwriter.
Graduating from Berklee College of Music, she got her start in the late 1990’s playing in Boston spots like Club Passim alongside Josh Ritter, Lori McKenna, and Anais Mitchell
“For me it was never about becoming a rock star. It was always about writing.”
She founded and fronted the critically acclaimed band The So and So’s in Boston, and moved on to co-found The Cold and Lovely in Los Angeles, then to play guitar and other instruments with The Weepies and more. Toohey has played with Boston-based Grammy-winning singer-songwriter McKenna for years as well. Toohey also penned her own gems that found their way to hit TV series’ such as Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, and other shows on MTV, PBS, and more. Her songs have also appeared in films, including Sex in the City, Friends with Money, Morning Glory, and Last Shift, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.
Reflecting on all she’s accomplished since picking up the guitar as a 10-year-old, Toohey notes that self-confidence - an elusive get she’s tried to help young musicians secure through programs like Rock & Roll Camp for Girls in LA - is key. “I think when I started letting go of the feeling that I shouldn’t be there, that’s when I started getting the gigs that were really worth something,” she says. “That’s half the battle, right? Just believing in your ability.”
Many American women will see themselves in Meg Toohey’s musical story. She’s seen the world, tasted several flavors of success - and failure, loved, lost, underestimated herself, and ultimately rediscovered her confidence and her own musical voice.